May 26, 2009 at 3:56 pm (About Me) (, , , )

I ended up with a rather busier Memorial Day weekend than I might have wished for myself.  It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for spending on the computer (although some of that was just me avoiding the computer because I wanted a technology break).

I ended up spending a lot of time reading, which was nice.  I poked a bit around my little garden, since more of my plants are blooming now.  I also spent some time just thinking.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people think I’m rigid.  Call it that, or stubborness, or any old thing – it all amounts to about the same thing.  My family especially likes to point this particular trait out to me, usually because they think I’m too rigid (or stubborn or whatever).

The older I get (and I realize I’m still not that old), the more impatient I get with being dismissed that way.  Because in so many ways, it is completely a dismissal.  People think, oh, we don’t need to listen to Mary, because she’s just being stubborn.  She’s not able to be flexible, so she isn’t seeing the world as it really is.  Maybe that viewpoint is sometimes true, but I don’t think it is nearly as often as I’m made to feel it is.

The fact is, the world exists because of rules.  I happen to find those rules pretty fascinating, perhaps because of my interest in history, or perhaps just because.  Every society has their own set of rules, and some societies even codify them.  The most fascinating thing about those rules, really, is the fact that even when people say that they’re outdated and ridiculous, most people still follow a large chunk of them.

So the fact that I know many of these rules (call them etiquette, call them manners, call them society, or anything else) and recognize both their value and their hold on people does not make me rigid.  Wanting to follow them myself does not make me stubborn.  Wanting to preserve a standard that is based on the ideal of a smoothly-operating society does not mean that I will apply that standard rigidly in every case I see.  But when I do apply it rigidly, that doesn’t mean I’m blowing things all out of proportion.

It might very well look as though I take offense at things that I would not have been offended by several years ago (before I actually learned these rules).  But I think what’s really happening is that now I know what I have a right to be offended over, and what I don’t.  So instead of a vague feeling of discomfort a lot of the time, I’m able to brush off things that shouldn’t offend me, and focus my energy on dealing with those things that do.  Ultimately, those rules of society apply just as much to myself as they do to anyone else, if not more so.  They help me figure out what the best course of action is in sticky situations, and come out the other side without pissing off everyone around me or burning any undeserving bridges.


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May 21, 2009 at 8:24 am (Uncategorized)

You know what’s awful?  Being really and truly suited for a society that dictates that all skin but the face be covered before leaving the house (and dictates that everyone wears hats outside), but living in a society that thinks the more tan you are, the better.

It’s really obnoxious to have to cover up all of my skin before spending much time in the sun (or deal with the ickiness that is every sunscreen I’ve ever tried).  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find anything long sleeved in the spring or summer?

It’s just too bad that having pale skin is no longer really in vogue. 🙂

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Google and Anti-Trust Laws

May 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Politics) (, , , )

I just finished reading this article in the New York Times, about the Obama Administration announcing that they intend to toughen anti-trust laws that were a lot more relaxed under the Bush Administration.

According to the article, Google is the company that is being most closely watched for anti-trust violations and other corporate misconduct.  That makes perfect sense, of course, because Google has more or less cornered the search engine market, and they offer a variety of other services that really do tie together.

What I find interesting, though, is comparing Google to Microsoft.  Microsoft did have to face legal action because of its corporate practices, but so far, Google has done nothing to warrant that.  The interesting part is that Microsoft was not challenged legally for being large and successful.  They were being challenged for stifling competition.

So since Google has yet to actually stifle competition, they have so far faced only scrutiny.  I get the feeling that it helps Google’s case that nearly all of their services are free.

The whole article just had me thinking about Google in general.  It’s such a ubiquitious company these days that it’s even been turned into a verb.  How many times a day do you hear someone say, “let me google it”?  What that means, I think, is that Google has an enormous amount of power over our everyday lives, because it’s services are honestly extremely useful.

So it makes me wonder about the laws in place to protect us all from overly-powerful companies.  Maybe Google isn’t an anti-trust, but what about their terms of service and privacy policies?  I have to admit, I haven’t actually read either (like most Americans, I imagine, I hit the “agree” button without even skimming), but what if they contained clauses that were actually unfair?  What if they retained the right to certain information that really ought not to belong to them?

I get the feeling that if this ever became a problem (i.e. if anyone ever sued Google over unfair language in their TOS), Congress would probably enact new laws to guarantee that companies have fair contracts regulating the use of their products.

Ultimately, as long as Google does actually obey the law, and the law covers all the bases it needs to, I can’t help but think it’s actually a good thing to have one company offer a lot of interconnected and interrelated services.  Especially in the realm of technology, it’s the easiest way to make sure that the programs you use all work together without anyone actually cornering the whole technology market (a la Microsoft).

And aside from that, the article pointed out that Google is actually bucking Microsoft in much of what it does.  It’s interesting that Google can be large enough to make federal officials concerned about its corporate practices, but still a newcomer and innovative force in the technology industry.

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Socialism (and why I buy into it)

May 19, 2009 at 9:07 am (Economy, Health Care, Politics) (, , , , , )

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics (in a sort of vague and non-specific way) over the past few days.  One conclusion that I’ve come to as a result of all of this is that I unabashedly believe that government involvement is often the best thing for certain types of things in this country – at least as it exists today.  I wouldn’t call myself a statist, because I don’t believe that government should be huge and controlling for any reason at all.  What I am, ultimately, is a socialist.  I really believe that when it comes to protecting and promoting society’s interests, the government is our best bet.

I probably ought to explain this further (since that’s kind of a loaded statement these days), so here goes.  I have no illusions that the government in the United States is perfect – it’s not.  It makes mistakes, and it runs things badly at times.  But I think that someone would be hard pressed to find a large entity of any sort that isn’t like that.  Bureaucracies are run by humans, and humans are fallible – the goal is to make them as good as possible, but it is impossible to make them perfect.

So the question becomes not, do I want bureaucracy?  Rather, it becomes, which bureaucracy do I want to have control over the most important parts of my life?  It’s rather pointless to argue about whether or not we need bureaucracy in today’s world, because the fact that it’s impossible to go through even half a day without coming into contact with one speaks to the fact that it is necessary.  Our society is too large and too complex to survive without the rules and regulations that make up bureaucratic red tape.  It is frequently annoying, and sometimes unfair, but I don’t think any other system would be an improvement.

So what bureaucracy do I want to control things like the military, or health care, or my money?  Corporations of a size large enough to manage any of that have the same flaws as the government.  But on top of that, they also have profit as their primary motivation, and they are accountable to nobody but their shareholders.  The government, on the other hand, takes profit entirely out of the picture, and it is accountable to everyone who actually votes.

There are certainly government employees who are not elected or appointed, but most of those report directly or indirectly to somebody who is.  Again, it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a lot better than a corporation who doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks as long as its major shareholders are happy and it continues to turn a profit.

One of the most common arguments against a government considered to be socialist is that it redistributes wealth.  Perhaps this may sound a bit flip, but I don’t really see why that’s a bad thing.  Sure, wealthy people earned their money (or someone up the family tree a ways did).  I don’t begrudge them that.  What I begrudge them is the disproportionate amount of power they have in our system.  If they are going to have that much power to influence policy and other things, they really ought to be paying a heck of a lot more into it.  On top of that, they are the ones who benefit most from things like public schools, or the military, or infrastructer.  It is only fair that they should pay a larger share of the cost, since they are getting a larger share of the benefits.

I also think that ultimately, the whole argument boils down to a distinction between what is fair and what is equal.  Those two words don’t mean anywhere close to the same thing.  An equal tax structure would have everyone paying the same percentage of their income; a fair one is graduated so that the people earning the most pay the highest percentage.  The reason why the latter is more fair than the former is that someone who is living paycheck to paycheck spends all or most of their income on necessities; someone who is wealthy doesn’t even spend their entire income.  So taxing everyone at, say, 20% means that the poorest won’t be able to afford all their necessities, and the wealthiest will simply have more money (that they don’t need) to save.

In addition, an equal society wouldn’t be good for other reasons.  In a fair society, everyone would get the same chance at a good education; in an equal society, everyone would need to get exactly the same education.  That basically means that the least capable and the most capable lose out, and everyone gets a sort of middling education.  When it comes to higher education, it is fair to say that everyone who meets certain standards can go if they want (regardless of considerations like class or race); equal would mean they have to accept anyone who applies, even if they fall short of the standards that would allow them to succeed.

Aside from all of that, cutting the poorest (and even the middle class) a break is good for our economy and our society as a whole.  Putting most of the burden of taxation on the non-wealthy means they have less ability to consume (which is necessary for the health of the economy), and it makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to actually have upward mobility.  I don’t think that it fits in very well with our ideology as a country to have solid, stratified classes that have little to no movement between them.  And I also don’t think that even the most opulent spending by the wealthiest Americans could possibly make up for the lack of normal spending by everyone else.

So basically, I am all in favor of a little bit of wealth distribution, and I fully support the idea that the US government should take control of those institutions which are most important to all of us.  I know it may seem easy for me to say I’m in favor of wealth distribution now (when I earn relatively little), but I don’t object to paying taxes.  As long as I have enough money left for me, and the government is being responsible with the money I handed over, I think taxes are a good thing (so phooey on everyone who criticized Joe Biden for saying that paying taxes is patriotic – it is).

And since I can’t figure out how to make this post shorter, congratulations to anyone who actually reads the whole thing!

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May 18, 2009 at 8:30 am (About Me, Cooking) (, , )

I made enchiladas yesterday for dinner.  Here is a list of all the things I probably should have done differently:

  1. Start enchiladas sometime before 5 pm if you want to eat before 8.
  2. Use less chili powder (2 tablespoons is OMGWAYTOOMUCH).
  3. Use less oil to saute onions and chili powder.
  4. Let sauce cool before trying to do anything else.
  5. Use fresh tortillas, not some that have been sitting in your freezer for 3 months, that you have to pry apart and let dry on a dish towel on your counter.
  6. Don’t use an enchilada-sauce-covered utensil to retrieve tortillas from the hot oil.  Enchilada sauce will fry, and that is not at all delicious.
  7. Get a flipping cheese wire, or at least find a better way of slicing the Monterey Jack into pieces.
  8. Don’t expect your enchiladas to actually be discrete pieces after they’re cooked – better to treat it like the casserole that it probably is at that point.
  9. Use meat of some kind for the filling if you don’t want your boyfriend to complain about the fact that there’s no meat in your meal (although I was perfectly happy with the cheese).

The end result was cheese enchiladas that were actually pretty good, aside from the fact that they were so spicy they made my tongue hurt all night.  Dumping a whole lot of cheese on top (instead of just a sprinkling) and eating them with sour cream helped, but they were still spicier than I’d like.  My mom told me I’ve just lived outside of Texas for too long, but I’m convinced that she burned her taste buds off years ago with all the spicy food she eats.

And, God help me, I’ve got these enchiladas in my lunch today.  Should be fun. 🙂

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May 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm (About Me, Hobbies) (, , )

So, I finished planting all of my new plants, and arranged them on my patio in a way that I hope will give them all enough sun (or enough shade, as the case may be).  But gardening is very tiring work!

Anyway, I put my spider plant in a new pot:

It looks a little sad, because Im a bad houseplant mommy.

It looks a little sad, because I'm a bad houseplant mommy.

It’s a rather lovely little pot, that I even got on sale!  I’m hoping the gravel I put in the bottom will keep it draining well.

And here is a picture of my “work in progress” that I took this afternoon before getting started:

Its too bad I dont get more of that lovely sunlight on my patio!

It's too bad I don't get more of that lovely sunlight on my patio!

It prominently features my lovely little nandina (in the bronze pot).  The red leaves at the top are the new growth.  I’ll have to figure out if this plant requires pruning before the summer is over.

And here, we have a lovely little jumble of plants waiting to be put into containers:

Such nice colors, arent they?

Such nice colors, aren't they?

Those are impatients (the white/pink and the purple flowers), lobelia (the blue flowers), and diascia (the trailing pink flowers).

And I also have some fuchsia hybrids and a plant that I couldn’t for the life of me identify (it lost it’s little label):

This is only about half the planter.

This is only about half the planter.

I’ve also got a shrub that’s called Hebe.  It’ll eventually have pink flowers (although I have no idea if it has bloomed already or not this year), but for now it’s just rather leafy:

Its pretty small right now, but Im hoping it will get bigger soon.

It's pretty small right now, but I'm hoping it will get bigger soon.

And finally, I have some lovely gerbera daisies that I’m really hoping don’t die on me.  They’re a bit of a risk, since they can be fussy, but they sure are pretty:

Here is my orange-ish one...

Here is my orange-ish one...

...and my red one.

...and my red one.

So, there we have it!  I’ll leave you with a shot of my cute little patio garden:

Also included is my extra bag of soil - I was so close to guessing the right amount!

Also included is my extra bag of soil - I was so close to guessing the right amount!

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Discipline? What’s that?

May 17, 2009 at 2:07 pm (About Me) (, , )

It’s a lovely spring/summer day here today.  I think it’s supposed to get up near 80 ultimately, although I’d be quite happy if it stayed at 70 or 75.  But even so, it’s a perfect day for gardening.  I was just out planting some things, and am taking a break before I go out and plant some more.  Container gardening on a patio that gets very little sun is terribly frustrating sometimes, but I have to admit that it is rather nice to have the whole set up 15 feet from my living room couch.

It’s got me thinking, though, about one of my most common personality traits.  I’m really very bad at following through with things.  I have lots of big ideas about all sorts of things, but most of them never make it past the idea stage.  Even some things that do, I don’t finish.

It’s not a trait I particularly like about myself.  It’s just not very nice to think about all the things I want to do, and remember all the things I haven’t done.  I don’t do this out of laziness, since a lot of the things I want to do and never finish are pretty sedentary activities (like movies – I am so bad at actually finishing movies).  I sometimes half wonder if I have a very mild form of ADD that, because I can function in society without any external assistance, isn’t really a disorder.  Because the reason I don’t end up following through on ideas is that I just have so many of them, and the one I’m currently working on is always the least interesting of them all.

And the other part of the problem is that I just have so many interests.  It’s not exactly true that I’m interested in everything, but it’s not actually as much of an exaggeration as it might seem.  Still, there are only so many waking hours in each day, and I have to devote a whole lot of them to working.  I’d probably have more time to devote to useful pursuits if I didn’t genuinely enjoy goofing off, too.  It’s a luxury that I intend to hang on to as long as I can, because this is the first time in my life when I’ve truly been able to do that on a regular basis (and I know that won’t last if I have kids).

Despite all that, I’m taking it as a good sign that this whole gardening project has managed to keep my interest long enough for me to actually buy plants, and plant them.  I’m not done with the planting part (mostly because it’s hard work, and I enjoy it more if I take breaks each time I finish with a container), but I’ll finish it today.  I think what I really need to do is learn to tailor all of my interests to this known and seemingly intractable personality trait.  Maybe I’ll never be the best at most of what I do, but that doesn’t really matter as long as I’m good enough to please myself.

So basically, I think the reason I might actually manage this gardening thing is that I’ll spend the bulk of my free time this weekend putting plants into containers…but then all I really have to do most of the time is keep them watered.

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May 12, 2009 at 9:08 am (Uncategorized) (, )

I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening just recently.  It’s the time of year to start planting most things, since it’s finally stopped freezing at night periodically.  Oregon weather can be kind of amusing, because everyone put away heavy winter coats weeks ago, but our growing season is really only just now starting.

Either way, I’ve got a major handicap when it comes to my gardening aspirations.  My poor little patio gets basically no sunlight.  It faces east, which would be an excellent source of light…except that there’s a big tree (an evergreen, no less) right in front of the apartment.  I can’t even really grow houseplants, because my apartment is always sort of dim.  I’ll appreciate all the shade this summer (since it’ll keep the whole apartment cooler), but it’s awfully frustrating right now.

So I’ve got a lovely little Nandina (of the dwarf “heavenly bamboo” variety) in a container on my patio right now.  I planted it last fall, and agonized all winter about whether or not the plant was going to make it.  Fortunately for me, Nandinas are pretty hardy plants, and they’re not picky about how much light they get (although they are more showy in full sun).  I’m also lucky that the edges of my patio do get exposed to rain, so I don’t actually have to water this plant.

Even so, it concerned me that it remained exactly the same size as when I bought it all winter.  I was almost convinced it was just going to give up and die on me over the summer, but I noticed a little bit of new growth yesterday.  Yay!  So I may be a bad houseplant mommy (RIP, poor little ficus), but at least I’m not a horrible gardener all around.

Either way, my relative success with the Nandina has encouraged me to find another shade-tolerant or shade-loving plant that I can grow outside on my patio.  I’ve got an empty pot (thanks to the dead ficus), and I’m thinking I may try to find a fuchsia that will do well in the shade.  I think there are varieties that do, and the plants have such lovely flowers.

I also may try to find a strawberry pot and grow some shade-tolerant herbs in it.  I’ve really wanted to try my hand at growing some herbs for awhile, but a lot of them really need a lot of sunlight.  So I’ll have to see if I can find any herbs that would do well in shade…even better if I’d actually use them!

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May 11, 2009 at 8:50 pm (Uncategorized) ()

I logged into Livejournal for the first time in quite awhile tonight.  I’d sort of forgotten about it for awhile, and then was avoiding it because I couldn’t possibly have caught up.

Apparently, the last time I posted was 11 weeks ago.  So basically, when I started this blog, I accidentally quit Livejournal.

It makes me a little bit sad that nobody noticed.

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*wades back into politics*

May 8, 2009 at 10:52 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

Okay, I’ve kind of been ignoring the news just lately (which is part of the reason I haven’t been posting).  It’s very hard to read news about financial ruin when your own personal financial situation isn’t especially secure.

However, I think I can stomach it for now, and it’s good to stay informed when possible.

So, how about that stress test?  I will freely admit that I didn’t read the second half of the article, because at some point, financial news makes my eyes cross (and that’s even when the financial news isn’t bad or worrisome).  But I did read Paul Krugman today.  He is, as usual, being a little bit doom-and-gloom, but at least he’s easier to read.

What I find interesting on this topic is that the stress test itself, as Krugman says, tells us very little (and certainly not much that’s actually reassuring).  Where I don’t agree with Krugman is why President Obama is approaching the situation in just this way.  Krugman seems to think that any incentive for changing the financial landscape is fading, and that the Obama Administration is mostly just deciding not to be dramatic here.

But seriously, Obama is Machiavellian.  He is incredibly smart, and able to use that to manipulate situations to fit his desires and goals.  I actually think there’s a very good possibility that he’s going to let all of the banks have a fair shot at getting out of this pickle without major changes precisely because he thinks they won’t be able to do it.  They’ve got less than a month to tell the government how they’re going to raise the extra capital needed to pass the stress test.  So what happens if some or all of them can’t figure out how to do it?  Obama can swoop in and say the government needs to make sweeping changes, because we gave the banks a chance and they couldn’t come up with a solution.

If people complain at that point, Obama can argue that he gave the banks a very fair shot – the estimate of their shortfall in capital was extremely, generously in their favor.  So if they couldn’t even come up with that, then how could they possibly weather the more serious shortfall that many people think is likely?

I hope that’s what he’s doing, anyway.  Otherwise, Paul Krugman’s gloomy outlook is probably right.  I’m just going to hold on to my hope that Obama is smart enough to use momentum he gets for free…but that he’s also charismatic enough to create his own momentum when he needs it.

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